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The Lie that Saved the World: Chapter 0, part 1

by VengefulReaper

Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

A/n: Considering recent feedback, I have decided to add a few chapters that precede my original chapter 1. If you are following, I apologize for the confusion. I will let you know when I'm done with this 'extended prologue' to my story.

Two months later.

Ethan rushed through the hospital hallway in full sprint, his mind in chaos. His thighs pained from running. The hallway knew no end. It felt as if the faster he ran, the longer the hallway got. He rested momentarily, his hands dropping to his kneecaps. Ethan panted like a dog as his lungs lit on fire.

He noticed the door come closer to him and the hallway shortened with every second he stood still. The damaged sign on the white door read ‘ICU’ in bold red letters. Ethan waited for the door to slowly slide in front of him before swinging it open to reveal one patient lying with a speck of life on a bed. His mother.

“Mom!” he shouted.

She snapped her head to Ethan in response and, despite her state, sat up in her bed. She looked just like the day he lost her. Her skin was rotted and peeling off, her eyes were sunken in and she had barely any muscle mass on her.

He tried to walk towards her, but the floor became sand making his feet sink. The more he struggled, the quicker he sank. From the sand emerged a pair of hands grasping his shirt firmly and pulling it down. Ethan tugged at his shirt with all his strength trying to free himself but their grip was too strong.

His mother slid her legs to the side of the bed, disconnecting the ventilator mask and standing up on her two feet. Walking towards Ethan as he was sinking, she stood on the edge of the sand pit. Ethan met her gaze. One that had only a hint of life in it that burned bright in her. I can still save her, he thought.

Ethan extended his hand asking for her help, but her eyes merely shifted back and forth between his eyes and his hand. The young scientist’s eyes pleaded, his entire body except his face consumed by the sand pit.

“Please,” he begged.

His mother finally grasped his hand and with one firm yank, pulled him out of the sand pit. Ethan looked at the woman dressed in a hospital gown up and down. She took a step closer to him. Swallowing the accumulated saliva in his mouth, Ethan resisted the urge to move a step back. She, with her frail, bony body, embraced him. Tears began to rush down his cheeks dripping onto his mother’s skin. He felt her skin soften at the touch of his tears, returning to their original color and texture. When she released him, she had recovered; the effects of the virus were nowhere to be seen as if it never happened.

He wiped the tears from his face and cleared his misty eyes, a small smile appearing. His face lit up like a lamp. Suddenly, he heard the slice of a knife cutting through flesh. His mother’s eyes widened, and her face froze. She collapsed at Ethan’s feet, blood pooling underneath him. The blood flowed to the extent that Ethan began to feel it seep into the soles of his shoes.

“No, no, no…Not again!” he said grabbing his mother’s body, trying to stop the bleeding.

The faceless hooded figure stood with his arm outstretched holding the bloody knife. Underneath the hood was a dark and deep abyss that made Ethan dizzy. The hooded man dropped his head to face Ethan’s feet. The pool of blood had widened and somehow deepened.

“It's time to go, Ethan. She's not coming back,” the man said.

The hooded figure removed his hood revealing a familiar face. His eyes were green and his hair brown with many strands of white as well. Ethan stared at an aged version of himself. He had wrinkles around his eyes and his cheeks sagged. He may have looked frail, but Ethan saw the same eyes of vengeance in his future self.

He advanced towards him. Ethan took a step back for every step his clone took forward until he hit the hospital wall. The hospital closed in on him until he was in a white box accompanied only by his clone and his mother’s body, the pool of her blood growing by the second.

The young scientist fell into the blood as if he was just dunked in the ocean. He flailed his arms trying to keep himself afloat. His heart raced and pounded in his ear. His breathing spiraled out of control. He had always feared drowning in the sea but drowning in his mother’s blood was worse. The figure turned his head to Ethan’s outstretched arm.

“Wake up,” he said watching Ethan’s face disappear beneath the blood. A red tint washed over Ethan’s gaze as he tried to make out what the man was saying.

He heard a muffled voice. It became clearer over time until he could hear exactly what the man was saying.

“Wake up.”

Ethan’s eyes snapped open, and he sprung off the bed he was sleeping on. A skinny man about a head shorter than Ethan (which was still a respectable height) stumbled backward and hit a lampshade with his elbow.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to startle you, but the boss asked me to come to check up on you. Are you feeling better?”

At least I’m not drowning, Ethan thought. “Uhm, yes, I am. Tell him I’ll be in the kitchen in a few minutes.”

The man chuckled, “Actually, he asked me to tell you to take the day off.”

"Just tell him I'm better and I can still work."

The man nodded and scurried over to the door. He exited the room leaving Ethan all alone.

“Just a dream, Ethan. Just a dream,” he muttered to himself as he neatened his apron and went to the sink to wash his face.

He opened the tap and cold water rushed out into the sink. He waited for the water to warm up. It was the middle of winter and there was no way he’d dip his hands or any part of his body in that. Ethan stumbled back as he looked in the mirror. His face was dripping with blood. What the hell, he thought. He shut his eyes tight and rubbed them with his hands thoroughly before opening them again. Nothing. His face was clean as a blank canvas.

He let out a sigh of relief. Ethan noticed the water was boiling when the mirror began to steam up. Much better. He washed his face, the water stinging his skin which he didn’t mind. It was much better than his face turning numb from the cold. After drying his face with a towel, he grabbed his cap and headed out of the room.

“Order number thirty-five! Thirty-five! Two steak specials, medium-rare and medium fries!” shouted the waiter from the entrance of the kitchen.

A man with a platter rushed past Ethan, the steam hitting his face. “Chicken platter, table four!” the chef shouted as he placed it on the counter for collection by one of the waiters.

Ethan always had a passion for cooking ever since he was nine. His goal in life then was to become a chef. Little did his nine-year-old self know, that cooking in a restaurant isn’t as quiet as cooking in your mom’s kitchen. In fact, ever since he’d left the lab, he’d been getting recurring headaches from noise and dizziness. He’d always attribute it to the chaotic kitchen and its suffocating environment that he had still not gotten used to. Nothing to be concerned about, he told himself. A bit of Ibuprofen tablets and a quick nap took care of that.

He looked at the clock above the entrance to the kitchen. Damn it! He cursed. He had slept through most of his shift.

“You okay, Rider?” the owner asked as he passed by the kitchen.

“Uh, yeah. I’m fine now. I can still work, sir.”

“You will do no such thing,” the owner insisted. “You need to take care of yourself.”

“But I don’t have any sick leave left and I need to pay my b—”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll pay you in full, okay?”

Ethan, taken aback at first by his manager's generosity, smiled. “Thank you, sir!”

The Boss patted him on the back. “Go see a doctor, kid. You’ve been getting sick too often ever since you joined two months ago. A check-up isn’t going to hurt. I’ll even pay for it if you want me to.”

“No thanks, sir,” Ethan said with a grateful smile. “What you’ve done for me is more than enough.”

“Good,” he said with a chuckle. “I want to see you back to normal for the end-of-year celebration with the staff, okay?”

Ethan nodded and greeted everyone before leaving. On his way out of the restaurant, he picked up his backpack from the locker. It was late in the afternoon and Ethan had one more place he needed to stop before he could go home. Ethan rushed over to the teleporting station to meet Sarah who would be returning from work soon. He jogged to the entrance and walked through the glass double doors.

The ground floor of the building was a roofed courtyard that looked like a mall. The spotless white tiling reflected Ethan’s image as he walked across it. Small stores lined themselves in aisles on the ground floor forming a path to the back of the building. People gathered in mass at the elevators waiting patiently. At every elevator, there was a security check to ensure that your possessions were safe for teleporting and that your access card was valid.

Ethan walked through the small market, people calling for him to visit their store. He would often buy something for his lunch from the market in the morning before heading for work. He approached one of the shops selling fresh fruit.

“You’re back early from work, aren’t you?” joked the old lady sarcastically behind the counter.

Ethan returned a half-hearted laugh before turning his gaze to the assortment of fruit before him. He picked up three deep red apples examining their ripeness before weighing them on the scale next to him.

“That’ll be twenty Rand,” the old lady said placing the apples in a transparent plastic bag and handing them over to Ethan.

Ethan slipped out a note from his wallet and handed it over to the owner.

“Thank you,” he said taking the bag of apples from her hand and leaving. He walked through the aisle to the end of the market, shoving his way through the crowds of people rushing toward him. Ethan emerged from the chaos, fixing his hair so that he looked presentable at the least. He jogged over to Sarah who leaned against a wall adjacent to the elevator.

“Hey,” Ethan greeted picking an apple out of his bag and throwing it to Sarah.

“You’re back early from work?” she asked in disbelief, taking a bite into the apple. “That’s probably rarer than Halley’s comet.”

Ethan laughed nervously. “First time for everything, am I right?”

She shot a suspicious look at Ethan, her eyes squinting. Ethan returned it with a wry smile before quickening his pace ever so slightly. Sarah looked a little relaxed that evening. Her shoulders weren’t tense, and her forehead wasn’t wrinkled as it always was after a long day of work. It seemed as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders.

“Well, you don’t have a wi-fi bar on your forehead,” Ethan teased. “That’s probably rarer than Halley’s comet."

"A what?" she asked.

"A wi-fi bar. When you're stressed your forehead gets wrinkles. It looks like the wi-fi icon...or something like that."

Sarah's brows furrowed, "How on earth did you manage to compare a wrinkled forehead to a wi-fi bar?"

"Saw it on Reddit," Ethan shrugged.

"Well, I'm usually stressed because I'm the only doctor in our ward but we finally got another doctor in the ward today. He knows his stuff, so things should be getting less stressful for me now."

"So you won't have a short temper when you come back from work anymore? That's great!" 

"Shut up, would you? I do not have a short temper."

"I take that back," Ethan said.

Sarah reached her apartment and walked up the steps, Ethan trailing closely behind her. She hesitated before unlocking the door and turning around to face Ethan.

“Um, may I help you?” she asked furrowing her eyebrows.

Deep breaths, Ethan. Deep breaths, he told himself. “Do you have a minute?"

“Um, Sure…” she hesitated.

She opened the door. Her apartment was a two-bedroom unit for when her sister would visit for business. Even though her apartment was larger than Ethan’s, the untidiness of the place made it feel smaller than his. The door opened into a living room and a kitchen similar to his only the kitchen was far smaller. The walls were painted an avocado green which contrasted with the maroon couch and TV cabinet on either side of the room.

There was a long hallway–too long, in fact–which was decorated with various frames of ancient coins. Sarah was a coin collector ever since she began earning a salary. She always told her sister that if she hadn’t become a doctor, she’d be a historian traveling the world. On the sides of the hallway were the entrances to the two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Ethan resisted the urge to clean up the crumbs on the couch and put away the out-of-place wash basket randomly sitting in the middle of the living room. It wasn’t too untidy but to Ethan, it was borderline unbearable. He clenched his jaw as he turned his face away from it. It’s her apartment, not yours, Ethan reminded himself.

He heard the door close gently behind him. Ethan stood at the door; he wasn’t planning on staying for long.

“Okay,” she huffed. “What is it you wanted to tell me?”

“I had another incident today. I’m going to see a specialist. I think the dizziness and the headaches aren’t just random. They’ve been getting worse over the past two to three months,” Ethan said.

“Thank goodness you're finally seeing one. I've been nagging you to go for months. Which specialist are you going to see?”

Ethan rubbed his forehead. "Dr. Xavier."

Sarah's smile vanished in an instant and her face went pale. "Dr. Xavier? He's an oncologist, though. Why would you want to see..."

Ethan closed his eyes for a moment and dropped his head. He'd been foolish not to see the symptoms earlier. Not many doctors knew of the disease he might have since it was linked to Secronium, an illegal substance banned years ago. Dr. Xavier had plenty of experience as an oncologist. He'd diagnosed patients with that disease during the war so if there was anyone who could confirm if Ethan was positive, it would be him.

"Leukemia, to be specific," Ethan lied. "There's a small chance I have it and an even smaller chance that it's terminal but I have to get it checked out."

"Okay, I'm taking leave from work tomorrow and I'm coming with you," she said.

"Sarah, you have an operation to oversee tomorrow. You can't."

"It's always recommended, to have someone with you when you see an oncologist. If things come out looking bad, at least you've got someone there to immediately support you."

"As I said, there's a really small chance it's something major. The last thing I want is to drag you away from a crucial operation on a critical patient only for the results to come out normal."

"So then why tell me if you didn't want me to come with you?" she asked.

"Because you kept nagging me to see one. If I didn't tell you, you would've kept nagging."

"Okay, fine. But you have to call me and let me know if everything is okay. Deal?"

Ethan opened the door and turned to leave. "Deal."

A/n: These are just a few questions I am curious to get your thoughts on

1. Do you think the dream sequence shows Ethan's inability to let go of his mother? Or is it too unclear to extract that message from it?

2. What did you think of the conversation with Sarah? Do they feel like friends?

3. Is there anything I can improve on? Something I should cut or something I should expand on?

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164 Reviews

Points: 217
Reviews: 164

Fri Jul 22, 2022 9:21 pm
MaybeAndrew wrote a review...

Andrew here for another review! I'm not one hundred percent sure where this happens conrogically, but tbh it might be my favorite chapter so far. You're definitely improving!
But into your questions!
1. Do you think the dream sequence shows Ethan's inability to let go of his mother? Or is it too unclear to extract that message from it?
I think that's very clear! You can very much tell that her death is a heavyweight on him. I especially found his 'future self' intrusion really interesting! The bittersweetness of seeing her saved in a dream is even more interesting than if she had just died normally again... and then adding in this future self-killing her, really interesting.
I'd say, go even harder on the metaphor (now I say this as a man who is obsessed with metphore) but maybe even use things that we don't realize consciously are signs that he's stuck in the past, but just gives us that feeling.
2. What did you think of the conversation with Sarah? Do they feel like friends?
I really like Sarah! I want to see more of her, and I hope she stays central as a character (or love interest???) She seems very normal and fun and is a refreshing contrast to the sad post-apolctiplic setting.
3. Is there anything I can improve on? Something I should cut or something I should expand on?
I really like these scenes establishing Ethan before he goes to the secret super base, so I would just say, more of this!

Into nitpicky specifics!

The young scientist fell into the blood as if he was just dunked in the ocean. He flailed his arms trying to keep himself afloat. His heart raced and pounded in his ear. His breathing spiraled out of control. He had always feared drowning in the sea but drowning in his mother’s blood was worse. The figure turned his head to Ethan’s outstretched arm.

The word dunked doesn't quite fit this context, by definition its something which goes underwater and then is brought out soon afterward. (Dunking a cookie in milk, dunking you head under water, etc) and even if you mean that because he comes out later, I'd say it is also just very nonformal, so it doesn't fit the horrifying context.
Ethan always had a passion for cooking ever since he was nine.

You can either cut the word always or the phrase since he was nine. Always means always, since he was nine is a period of time.
“You will do no such thing,” the owner insisted. “You need to take care of yourself.”

I like this boss.

Anyway, that's all just my two cents, hope it helps!
Like I said, this was fun, I like Sarah, I am liking Ethan more as we go, I'd only say I want to see more how Ethan specifcally as a character, and how he, intertwines with the problems of the world. Because tbh I don't care whether the rest of the world lives or dies, but if we can really attach him to the larger story, I think I would.

Thanks, and keep writing,

Thanks for the review, Andrew! Chapter 0 was actually an arc that happened later on in the novel but I decided to move it to the front. There's still quite alot to go of this 'extended prologue' before chapter 1.

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Reviews: 47

Wed Jun 29, 2022 1:37 am
SalisRuinen wrote a review...

Hey!! Salis here with a review!

As usual, I'll start by answering the questions you've left after the chapter.

Initially I was left with the feeling that Ethan was haunted by his mother's death because of his unability to save her, going as far as to relive the false hopes he had about her surviving at one point before she was finally taken from him. There's even a part of hands pulling him down that could signify his guilty consciousness weighing him down. It was the sentence his older version said - 'She's not coming back.' - that made it clear for me the dream was about not being able to let go of his mother.

I suppose the two are related, but if you are aiming to focus on the protagonist not being able to let go of his mother from the start, you can go about that in a slightly different way. This is purely suggestive, but for example, you can put a scene in the dream similar to the one where he was at work (used to symbolize his present and the future he's heading toward) with his mother (a piece of the past) suddenly making an appearance somewhere in the restaurant. That way you can show how he is unable to move forward due to the thoughts on his mother pulling him back to his past and guilt.

The conversation with Sarah was greatly handled, I think. I like every interraction between the two in general as the dialogue they have always feels so natural and often shifts from serious to comedic topics - something I love very much. And conversasions like the one they have in this chapter are a clear sign of strong friendship, so Ethan and Sarah definitely feel like friends to me.

I already made a comment on the dream sequence based on your goal for it, so that's something that can be changed a bit. Other than that, I think it would be a good idea to explain what's happened to Ethan before he wakes up (with one or two sentences at most). I suppose he didn't feel well and went to lie down for a bit, ending up falling asleep. If that's the case, though, why not just ask his boss to let him go home to get proper rest from the start? Is this how things happen every time the protagonist has a headache at work? How often do these headaches occur? I find it unlikely for any boss to tolerate such a condition for one of their employees for two months, so some clarification on this matter would be helpful to the reader to better understand the current situation.

Now, for my thoughts on the other stuff!

I'm really glad there'll be an extended prologue as that will give more weight to the events in the chapters of the main story while also hinting at additional revelations that will fully come to light later on. And this chapter (or rather first half of the chapter) is a great way to kick off such a prologue series!

The whole dream sequence was something I enjoyed very much and didn't expect to see in a novel like this, so it came as a pleasant surprise. I suppose my impression of the story so far was of something more tech/sci-fi-oriented and separated from any straight fantasy stuff, but due to the lack of any sci-fi elements here (apart from the teleportation), the dream melds in nicely with what follows. All the images conjured up during the dream were quite visceral and really helped to show how tormened Ethan's mind is, so you've done a great job on that one!!

Our protagonist meeting an older version of himself in the dream to symbolize (at least in my mind) his own sense of guilt for failing to save his mother and thus contributing to her death was probably the most haunting part of the whole sequence. Losing your mother is one thing. Feeling personally responsible for that due to your helplessness is something else entirely and it really shows here.

For a man of Ethan's intellect and skills to work in a restaurant is quite a comedown, so I like that we're starting off the prologue with him being at a low point mentally, physically and even job-wise. I also found his boss to be almost suspiciously understanding of the young man's situation. I suppose when health is concerned, most employers are like that, but still can't help but wonder if the boss doesn't have an ulterior motive for all the compomises he's making.

Lastly, the part with Sarah was probably the one I enjoyed the most because as I already mentioned, I love the banter between those two! The wi-fi joke had me rolling! Keep putting more stuff like this in the story as they really help to lighten the mood and such moments are very important in an overall dark setting.

The description of Sarah's house was also great as it gave some insight into her as a character and how she's different from Ethan. And the tone shift during the two's conversation in her house to a very serious one was a great way to finish this half of the chapter, making me wonder if the protagonist is medically healthy and if he'll actually call Sarah in case he's not.

Thanks for this (half of the) chapter! Keep at it!!

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Fri Jun 24, 2022 10:01 am
Liminality wrote a review...

Hi again VengefulReaper!

One thing I liked about this chapter was getting to know the characters a little better. I remember liking the conversation between Ethan and Sarah in the ‘main’ part of the plot, and it’s really nice to see more of them interacting here and learn more about Sarah. I also quite like the description of the ‘teleportation station’ here as being “mall”-like. It gives a glimpse into the everyday lives of people in this setting.

Dream Sequence

The main emotions I read from the dream sequence at first was distress and maybe guilt over the mother’s death. The “I can still save her” line made me think he’s viewing himself as somehow responsible for her life-and-death. Having read your questions, I’m guessing the sinking scene was meant to symbolize him being dependent on her instead, since she was the one who pulled him out, and not the other way around.

Ethan stared at an aged version of himself. He had wrinkles around his eyes and his cheeks sagged. He may have looked frail, but Ethan saw the same eyes of vengeance in his future self.

I know it’s fiction, but somehow the image Ethan has of his future self seems too specific for any ordinary dream. My understanding is that dreams tend to be very vague and seemingly 'random', so this description in particular made me think it could be some kind of supernatural vision, or a situation where older Ethan is 'actually' walking into young Ethan's dream, rather than a symbolic reflection of Ethan's grief. Still, I like the idea of Ethan facing ‘himself’ in his dream, as internal conflicts of protagonists always make them more interesting.

Sentence Structures

Something that could be improved on is maybe the use of longer sentences. For example:
He noticed the door come closer to him and the hallway shortened with every second he stood still.

It feels like there’s a lot of images in this sentence that express the same thing: ‘the door is approaching Ethan in the dream’. Maybe that’s there on purpose, for emphasis. Still, I think having a comma somewhere in sentences like this might make them easier to read. Another example would be:
The faceless hooded figure stood with his arm outstretched holding the bloody knife.

In this one there’s a lot of long descriptions of things. Long noun phrases, I mean. “faceless hooded figure” and “his arm outstretched holding the bloody knife” each seem to be one ‘phrase’, and it gets a little overwhelming to piece those words together into an image. Maybe changing the structure so that the images in smaller chunks might help? One idea could be using commas like so:
The faceless hooded figure stood, his arm outstretched, fingers grasping the bloody knife.

Just a suggestion though!

Conversation with Sarah

I like that there are details sprinkled here and there that show they know each other. When Sarah points out that being early from work is a first for Ethan, it shows she knows his habits, in contrast to when the old lady at the fruit shop says it, who seems to be poking fun at him for getting out of work early in general. Ethan’s observations that Sarah seems less stressed than usual also makes it seem like they’re friends, and also specifically friends that live around the same area. (I did think they were roommates at first, until the part that mentions they have separate apartments.)

Sarah's brows furrowed, "How on earth did you manage to compare a wrinkled forehead to a wi-fi bar?"

That was my question as well! xD Those would have to be some very circular/ smooth-curved wrinkles.

I think designing living spaces that reflect your characters’ personalities is a strength of yours! I still remember Ethan’s neat apartment, and I like how that contrasts Sarah’s comparatively colourful and messy place. “avocado green” and “maroon” are nice specific shades as well. It suggests someone with a lively personality, the kind of person who would be interested in coin-collecting.
Ethan resisted the urge to clean up the crumbs on the couch and put away the out-of-place wash basket randomly sitting in the middle of the living room.

Poor Ethan! I do like that this part of his character has been consistent through all the chapters.

The part where Ethan talks to Sarah about seeing an oncologist felt very real. I could definitely feel the trepidation in the scene and how it contrasts the earlier more light-hearted mood. I’m guessing Ethan’s disease wouldn’t be something we recognise from our world, though, since it has to do with this Secronium substance.


I think this prologue helps to add some context and a more typical ‘novel structure’ to your story. While I liked the kind of ‘rush-into-it’ feel of the first chapter, this prologue definitely helps establish some useful facts about the setting and characters, like knowing Ethan’s issue with his mother’s death and the fact that there are teleportation devices in this world.

Hope some of this helps, and feel free to ask for more feedback!


Thanks so much for the review, Lim! I'm terrible with comma usage but now that you pointed it out, I'll pay special attention to them.

May you never steal, lie, or cheat. But if you must steal, then steal away my sorrows. And if you must lie, then lie with me all the nights of your life. And if you must cheat, then please, cheat death.
— An Unknown Bride, Leap Year